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Chechen negotiator says no alternative to Putin-Maskhadov meeting
Source: Chechenpress web site, Tbilisi, in Russian 21 Nov 01

Rebel Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's negotiator at the recent talks with Russia, Akhmed Zakayev, has said that there is no real alternative to a meeting between Maskhadov and Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the conflict. He was fairly upbeat about his talks with Putin's representative, Viktor Kazantsev, describing as positive the very fact that a meeting took place at all. He said there could be no preconditions for the talks, such as full disarmament of the Chechen forces, and he also said that the Chechen side wanted to see mediators involved once the talks proper kicked off. The following is the text of a report by Chechenpress news agency web site:

21 November: [Rebel Chechen Deputy Prime Minister] Akhmed Zakayev's interview to PRIMA news agency

A meeting between the special representative of the Chechen president, Akhmed Zakayev, and the Russian president's plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, was held on 18 November at Moscow's international airport Sheremetyevo-2. After his return to Istanbul, Mr Zakayev consented to give an interview to our news agency.

[Correspondent] Mr Zakayev, do you consider the Moscow meeting successful?

[Zakayev] I consider the meeting constructive. The parties exchanged views on ways of ceasing military operations in the Chechen Republic. From our side, we once again confirmed our adherence to a peaceful settlement. I met Kazantsev on [rebel Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov's orders as the latter's representative. I think that how events develop further will depend entirely on the position of the Russian leadership.

[Correspondent] President Maskhadov's readiness to hold talks is well-known. Did you feel the Russian side had the same attitude?

[Zakayev] I cannot now comment on the position of the Russian side, but I am inclined to regard the fact that the meeting took place as a sign of their readiness for talks.

[Correspondent] Is the Russian side insisting on its previous position regarding the unconditional disarming of the Chechen army?

[Zakayev] Disarmament cannot be a condition for the talks, I have said this before. All this is about neither capitulation nor disarmament. All this is about seeking ways to settle this conflict, i.e. the cessation of military operations. I would like to emphasize once more that events in Chechnya are not of a military nature and it is impossible to settle this conflict militarily, or by force. The events in Chechnya are purely political in nature and a settlement must be purely political. If so, there is a need for compromises and a dialogue should be conducted to achieve this.

[Correspondent] Have you reached agreement on further contacts?

[Zakayev] I do not want to confirm this beforehand, but we get in touch by phone. I think that after [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is informed, a reaction will come from his representative, Viktor Germanovich Kazantsev.

[Correspondent] Do you consider that prospects for a meeting between President Maskhadov and President Putin are more realistic now?

[Zakayev] I simply do not see any other prospects for settling the conflict.

[Correspondent] Will you agree to further contacts with the Russian side without the presence of mediators?

[Zakayev] Our personal relations or contacts - that is one thing. But if today we are speaking about settlement of the military conflict and the cessation of military operations, then a third party is a necessary component: with the status of mediator, observer or assisting side. This is our position.

[Correspondent] In its time Russia easily violated the Khasavyurt agreement [signed by Russia and Chechnya in 1996]. Aren't you afraid that history will repeat itself?

[Zakayev] I believe that today both Russia and Chechnya have a chance to put an end to this centuries-old conflict and centuries-old confrontation.

[Correspondent] Did you receive a Russian visa to visit Moscow?

[Zakayev] No, I did not receive a visa. And I did not pass through either the customs or border guards. The meeting was held at Sheremetyevo airport with the help of the Turkish side. The leader of the Turkish Liberal Democratic Party, Besim Tibuk, flew with me to the meeting. The meeting was held in the VIP lounge and lasted a little over two hours. Then we went to a plane accompanied by Kazantsev's assistant and flew from there. We took a special flight to Russia which was organized for us by the Turkish side.

[Correspondent] Did the Russian side guarantee your security?

[Zakayev] I think that statements from [Russian presidential aide Sergey] Yastrzhembskiy himself on behalf of President Putin, as well as numerous statements from Kazantsev saying that he guaranteed my security were quite enough for my own modest self. Especially as we took a special flight with the help of the Turkish side.

[Correspondent] Can you say that you are satisfied with the meeting as a whole?

[Zakayev] I think that at this stage the fact the meeting actually took place and that there was an exchange of views on a peaceful settlement or cessation of the military operations in Chechnya could be regarded as a success.

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